- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

Part Five

SAN DIEGO The question of amnesty for illegal aliens is a hot topic not only for politicians in Washington, but also among the thin green line of U.S. Border Patrol agents here and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"What the hell are we doing out here?" asked one veteran agent. "Why don't we just pack it in? Amnesty? It's just an open invitation for more illegal aliens to come into the country, stay low for a while and, eventually, get their citizenship papers.
"Who's in charge here?" the agent asked, staring at a group of 11 Mexican nationals preparing to vault a border fence and head north.
It's a common theme among Border Patrol field agents from Texas to California, calling into question pending proposals by both Republicans and Democrats to grant amnesty or residency status to a growing number of illegal aliens.
Further undercutting their efforts, the agents complain, is the failure of the politicians in Washington to support a strategy for dealing with the illegal immigrants who get past the agents on the border and into the interior of the United States.
President Bush; Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat; House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat; and the House Republican leadership all have proposed now-pending amnesty programs that would grant permanent residency status to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens in the United States.
The proposals would allow certain illegal aliens to remain in the United States to apply for legal residency, under various conditions. The most popular proposal seeks to grant amnesty to immigrants who have been in this country since December 2000, have a qualifying relationship with a family member or employer and are willing to pay a $1,000 fine.
About 200,000 illegal immigrants are believed to be eligible under the more-limited House proposal, aimed mostly at Mexican nationals. The total is a far cry from the original proposals by Mr. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, who talked at one time about amnesty for as many as 3 million illegal immigrants.
The U.S. Hispanic population, estimated in the 2000 census at 35.3 million, represents 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population, an increase of 60 percent since 1990. It compares with 36.7 million blacks counted in the 2000 census and represents a growing voting bloc for both Republicans and Democrats.
Immigration analysts said the Hispanic population is expected to pass that of American blacks this year, reaching 56 million by 2010, more than 15 percent of the total population. By 2020, the number is expected to jump to 70 million, or 21 percent of the U.S. population.
Most of the Hispanic population growth is expected in pivotal electoral states such as California, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania. By the year 2010, the United States is projected to have the second-largest Hispanic population in the world, behind only Mexico.


The politics of immigration
White House chief political strategist Karl Rove has unabashedly sought the Hispanic vote, telling The Washington Times last year during a White House interview that a Hispanic outreach strategy was only part of a broader plan to elect more Republicans to Congress and win Mr. Bush a second term.
Mr. Rove said the president's popularity among Hispanics was the result of careful work through a lacework of communications strategies, policy initiatives, high-level appointments and foreign visits.
"Every bit of data shows that Bush and Republicans generically are doing far better among Hispanics than we have done in previous years," he said.
Mr. Gephardt attacked Republicans who announced their opposition to amnesty for illegal aliens, saying it was "a betrayal of the interests of immigrants and their families, who work hard, pay taxes and make invaluable contributions to America."
Mr. Daschle introduced legislation earlier this year that not only would extend existing amnesty provisions but would also relax some of the mandated regulations and deadlines to make more illegal aliens eligible. He said at a press conference that most of the illegal aliens who would benefit from the bill already have children who are American citizens.
"In my view, it ensures we send as clear a message as possible: Democrats support family reunification," he said.
In July, Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, announced the creation of the Hispanic Business Council as part of the Democratic Party's continuing effort to woo Hispanic voters.
"We have never taken the Hispanic vote for granted," he said. "By launching the HBC, we are proving yet again that our commitment to the Hispanic community goes beyond slick marketing campaigns and empty rhetoric."
So the amnesty effort continues in Washington despite a Zogby poll showing that 77 percent of Americans believe the government is not doing enough to control the border. Fifty-six percent of those polled thought efforts by Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox to consider amnesty for up to 3 million illegal immigrants was a "bad or very bad idea."
At the same time, a Gallup poll said 67 percent of Americans believe the government should not make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens and that 64 percent believe illegal immigrants are a "net drain" on taxpayer-funded social services.
The government acknowledged in a report released Aug. 30 that some 215,000 illegal aliens living in the United States were granted legal status during fiscal 2001 and that an additional 970,000 adjustment cases are pending.
The report said one in five persons who became a legal U.S. resident in fiscal 2001 either had entered the country illegally or remained here after the expiration of a temporary visa.
"No matter how overcrowded many of our schools are becoming; no matter how many emergency rooms and public health care facilities have to be closed because of a dramatic rise in uninsured immigrants; no matter how it affects wages, jobs, affordable housing or the environment, there appears to be no limit to the willingness of our political leaders to pander to ethnic voting blocs and to cheap labor interests," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
"When it comes to immigration, the American public has been lied to more often than the shareholders of Enron," Mr. Stein said.
Dozens of Border Patrol field agents believe Washington is out of touch with the realities of the U.S.-Mexico border, where agents will make more than 1 million arrests this year and some of the agency's nine sectors will experience as many as four assaults each week on its agents.
They said in interviews that a grant of amnesty or permanent residency to thousands of illegal immigrants was for them a slap in the face.
"No more free passes for anyone who can make it across the Rio Grande under cover of night, whether they be campesinos [peasants], dope dealers, terrorists or maids," said one veteran agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "You can't pick and choose. Either the border is secure or it is not.
"Our mission is about the core value of law enforcement, which is to enforce the law," he said.
It was less than a week before the September 11 attacks on America when Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox talked about amnesty for as many as 3 million illegal immigrants. Mr. Bush planned to ask Congress to legalize Mexican aliens if they took jobs others passed up and called for the abolition of laws barring American employers from hiring border jumpers.
"The truth of the matter is that if somebody is willing to do jobs others in America aren't willing to do, we ought to welcome that person to the country, and we ought to make that a legal part of our economy," Mr. Bush said at a White House ceremony with Mr. Fox.
"We ought not to penalize an employer who is trying to get a job done, who hires somebody who is willing to do that kind of work," the president said.
Mr. Bush did not explain at the time how he could grant legal status to millions of Mexicans now living illegally in the United States without unfairly treating would-be immigrants from Mexico and other nations who had been waiting years to immigrate to this country legally.
Mr. Fox has long supported the idea that Mexican immigrants should not be viewed as criminals, but as essential to the success of the U.S. economy. He was the force behind a joint Bush-Fox statement on immigration policy that would respect "the human dignity of all migrants, regardless of their [legal] status."
But the Bush-Fox amnesty proposal, roundly criticized by conservatives in Congress, was put on hold after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"I do not believe it is possible to simultaneously defend America's border and, at the same time, advocate policies that move the country toward a state of open borders, such as amnesty for illegal immigrants," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
He called the president's amnesty proposal "a confusing and ambiguous message" that encouraged continued illegal immigration, adding that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress had failed to pass meaningful immigration reforms.
"We can solve this problem. We have the resources at hand to do the job," he said. "What we don't have is the political will, and we may never have that as long as Democrats look at amnesty as a way to woo voters and Republicans see it as a means to attract low-wage workers."
He said the proposed breakup of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service into separate agencies, including the shifting of the Border Patrol to Homeland Security, "would ensure that its law-enforcement duties are not pushed aside by the demands of special-interest groups and open-borders ideologues."


Debating amnesty
Others, including the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty, have sought to put an end to what they describe as abuses imposed on millions of immigrant workers through the "globalization of the economy and the restructuring of the global labor markets."
The National Coalition, formed in 1999, believes current immigration law keeps more than 8 million workers in an undocumented status, where they are being exploited and subjected to discrimination, substandard wages, long working hours, no benefits, and no rights to organize and bargain collectively.
The organization supports an unconditional general amnesty for all undocumented immigrants, an end to immigration raids and deportations, and work permits for all.
Also, faced with dwindling memberships, several labor unions nationwide and the AFL-CIO itself have turned to a new pool of workers immigrants, including undocumented aliens. Many of those courted have moved into industries where the unions were long supreme but have since lost significant numbers.
One major target is the country's 2.5 million agricultural workers, where half are believed to be illegal immigrants, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit study group.
In March, Rep. Brian Kerns, Indiana Republican, introduced a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that amnesty not be granted to persons residing in the United States illegally. The resolution, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, said granting amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens already in the country "would reward those who break the laws of the United States."
Mr. Kerns said granting amnesty also would subvert the efforts of the Border Patrol, the INS, the U.S. Customs Service, the Coast Guard and other agencies that work to secure the nation's borders.
The resolution remains in committee.
In May, the president signed into law the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 that would help authorities track the movements of foreign nationals in the United States and try to spot potential terrorists before they enter the country.
The bill, passed 97-0, did not include the amnesty provisions proposed by Mr. Bush, who has made outreach to Hispanics a key part of his administration. The president, who received only 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2000 election, had wanted the amnesty measure as a signal of good faith to Hispanic groups and Mr. Fox.
"The [House] bill didn't have everything I wanted. I wanted a temporary extension which basically allowed certain immigrants, sponsored by their families or employers, to become legal residents without having to leave the country, so that families can stay together," the president told reporters at the time.
Veteran Border Patrol agents, along with lawmakers and immigration analysts, also question the efforts by the government in arresting illegal aliens who have crossed into the United States and found employment in cities all across the nation.
They said in interviews during a three-week tour of the U.S.-Mexico border that too little effort is being made to tie the Border Patrol's new enforcement policy of forward deployment with a comparable interior enforcement plan.
"There's no doubt that once the illegal immigrants pass through the border region, there is little enforcement effort being made to identify where they are or to round them up," said one longtime agent. "Employers, who are supposed to face stiff fines for hiring illegal aliens, are not being targeted, arrested or fined."
"When was the last time you heard about a big-time employer being arrested for hiring illegal aliens?" asked another agent. "It's just not happening."


Getting tough
Congress has directed the INS to "focus on the end-outcome of deportation, recognizing that deportation is the strongest deterrent to illegal immigration." Several lawmakers believe the lure of jobs in this country is the single most compelling incentive for illegal migration and that the Border Patrol's forward-deployment policy can be effective only if there is a corresponding reduction in employment opportunities through effective work-site enforcement.
The INS interior enforcement strategy was supposed to create what the agency called "a seamless web of enforcement extending from the border, and beyond, to the work site." It sought to facilitate internal coordination among various INS enforcement activities and forge closer ties with other federal, state and local law-enforcement and regulatory agencies.
The strategy, with mixed immigration enforcement signals coming from Washington, has not been effective.
Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee on immigration, has introduced legislation targeting six specific areas of immigration policy: securing the border; screening aliens seeking admission; tracking aliens in the United States; removing alien terrorists, criminals and human rights abusers; enhancing interior enforcement; and having a "legal immigration system that makes sense."
"Our immigration system is in desperate need of reform," Mr. Gekas said in introducing the bill.
The bill would increase the penalties against alien smugglers, boost the Border Patrol to more than 16,000 officers and give the president the option to fully use the military along the nation's borders to supplement the Border Patrol's efforts to keep out terrorists, drug smugglers and illegal aliens.
It also would require tracking all aliens entering and leaving the United States; increase the security and counterfeit-resistance of birth certificates, driver's licenses and Social Security cards; foil the ability of illegal aliens to obtain jobs by requiring that employers check the validity of new employees' Social Security numbers; and increase the number of INS investigators.
Mr. Gekas' bill has stalled in committee.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, has long asked the INS to develop an interior strategy that does not convey the message to would-be illegal immigrants that "once you make it past the Border Patrol, you are home free."
Mr. Smith believes the existing enforcement strategy is flawed because it does not prioritize the removal of illegal alien workers who benefit from alien-smuggling operations. Failing to deport illegal-alien workers, he said, encourages illegal immigration.


Defending the border
The "border region" extends 60 miles into the United States, running parallel along the U.S.-Mexico border from Boca Chica on the Gulf of Mexico to the Border Field State Park on the Pacific Ocean.
This year, more than 3 million illegal aliens will pass through the border, which crosses four states and 48 counties. About one in three will be caught.
With the vast majority of Border Patrol agents part of a forward-deployment strategy, illegal immigrants who can dodge the agents, sensors, cameras, lights, dogs and helicopters and survive the rugged desert terrain generally are home free.
The forward-deployment strategy has resulted in the Border Patrol's increased ability to control several cities, towns and established ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, but there is no evidence that overall illegal immigration into the United States has declined.
What has happened, says the General Accounting Office, is that the illegal immigrant population and their smugglers have sought new routes into this country through less-populated and often remote areas of the border.
Once the illegal aliens maneuver through the Border Patrol's forward-deployed positions, there is no second line of defense. Next stop? Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago and smaller cities such as Boise, Idaho, and Yakima, Wash.
"If they can get by us, and a lot of them do, they know they can go underground, find a job and disappear particularly in the several cities and towns across the country that have large Hispanic populations," said one veteran Border Patrol agent. "We get one chance at them, and if they elude us, they're gone."
The budget for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which oversees the Border Patrol, has grown from $1.5 billion in 1993 to $5.3 billion this year, but much of the funding has gone for increased personnel, technology and equipment along the border.
Less cash and effort is being expended to arrest illegal aliens who have maneuvered through the border region to the nation's interior. Immigration analysts and veteran agents believe it will take several years to bring control to the entire U.S.-Mexico border. The effort also may require as many as 20,000 Border Patrol agents, more than double the number now deployed.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the shift by the INS away from work-site enforcement is a concession of defeat. They say the agency's shift occurred because it had been unsuccessful in removing illegal aliens from work sites other than those who had committed other crimes.
"We are still sending young men and women to protect our borders, placing their lives in jeopardy every day, but refusing to give them the support they need here in Washington," Mr. Tancredo said.
"Does anyone remember Vietnam? We lost that war. If we lose this one, we will end up losing our country."."

Part Four:U.S. groups aid — and encourage — illegal aliens.

Part Three:Drug trade grows under the cover of illegal immigration.

Part Two:Health care facilities and schools burdened with illegals.

Part One:New strategies to slow the flood of illegal immigrants.

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